Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Crucible ~ Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a play based upon actual historical facts and people from the Salem Witch Trials. ... I feel sorry for anyone who had to sit through the play when it was originally performed. ... The characters portrayed in the play are real people who were directly involved in the trials that took place in 1692 in Salem, MA although the events, actions, and personalities of the characters in the play are purely fictitious.

The story focuses on Abigail Williams, the niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, and Abigail’s friends whom we soon find out where all participating in some questionable behavior. The curtain opens upon Reverend Parris praying over his afflicted daughter, Betty. Various neighbors enter and exit the scene and pronounce the child to be possessed, much to the horror of Reverend Parris.

Whether Betty was truly ill or simply acting I never found out because I quit reading the story after 20 pages. The characters were so cruel and generally annoying that I couldn’t stand reading about them. I don’t know why Arthur Miller chose to make his historically Puritan characters out to be so malicious. Even though the book was only 140 pages long I did not want to finish the story. Had I been in the audience during the original 1953 Broadway production I would cringed the entire time.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Sarah, Plain and Tall ~ Ptricia MacLachlan

Anna and Caleb live with their father out on the prairie. Their mother died while giving birth to Caleb. Their father puts an add in the paper for a bride. Sarah answers the add and comes to live with them on the prairie ... the story is familiar if you've seen the movie. I grew up loving this movie, it's one of my Mama's favorites. I think I also loved this movie because the siblings share the names of my older brother and me ... although I was happy to learn that in the book Anna is older then Caleb ... not the other way around as it was with me and my brother. *wink*

I just love this book, honestly I do. I'd never read it until just recently. It's a cozy, home-y, exciting, make you fall in love with all the characters kind of book. Read it, read it, read it!

This story is told by Anna, the oldest child who greatly misses her mother, but has to be strong (as the house chores all fall to her). Her little brother talks a lot and asks many things. He's a very curious child. Their father is strong, quite, reserved, and deeply misses his dead wife.

Sarah answers the add in the paper. She writes letters about herself to the family. She is, as she describes herself in a letter "strong and I work hard and I am willing to travel. But I am not mild mannered." She leaves out that she has a very strong will and is quite stubborn. She lives by and loves the sea but she says she was come to the prairie. She will come by train and will wear a yellow bonnet.

Sarah arrives, with her cat Seal. Many hardships await her as she becomes accustomed to the ways of the prairie ... death of farm animals, chickens for eating (not pets), no rain for months and months, no neighbors for miles and the hardest, no sea.

Anna doesn't want Sarah there because she's afraid she'll learn to love Sarah but Sarah will end up leaving because the prairie is too hard. Caleb loves her right away and is always looking for things that Sarah says that mean she'll stay.

In the end they all come to love her, but will she stay with them on the prairie or will she go back to her beloved, greatly missed sea?

Kenny and the Dragon ~ Tony DiTerlizzi

In the land where rabbits raise sheep is where we find Kenny ... er ... Kenneth, but all his friends call him Kenny, so by all means ... we find Kenny.

Kenny isn't your ordinary rabbit, I mean, besides the fact that his father and mother raise sheep, and besides the fact that they walk and talk and also besides the fact that Kenny rides his bike to town to go to school every day, Kenny isn't your normal rabbit. He loves reading and learning and books, books, books. Most kids ... er ... rabbits in school don't like to read and learn, they go because their parents send them.

So, that's the world of Kenny the rabbit, he lives on a sheep farm with his father and mother and loves books.

One day, while mother rabbit is making supper, soup I believe, father rabbit rushes into the kitchen, scared to death and hyperventilating ... there's a dragon sleeping on top of the hill where they graze the sheep! He then proclaims they're moving without a moments hesitation before they get eaten. Mother rabbit says she's not leaving until Father tastes the soup to see what it needs and they've all had supper and the dishes are done. Father agrees and after eating supper, he calms down and says they aren't moving after all.

Kenny is wild with excitement, a real dragon! After supper and dishes and homework, he dons his "armor" (which consists of several pots and pans, a broom, a garbage can lid, etc.) and heads out to see the dragon. To his great surprise he and the dragon become best buds. Now he has but two friends. His other friend, in town, is an old badger who owns a book store (a fellow book lover that lends books to Kenny as often as Kenny needs them). The badger often entertains Kenny with tales of knights in shining armor, dragon slayers and the like.

Soon, in spite of how Kenny and his parents try to keep the dragon a secret, news spreads and the king (I don't remember where he's from, I think he just appears) calls upon a retired knight to slay the dragon and save the town. It's up to Kenny and his friends and family to save the dragon. Will they succeed?

I thought this book was wonderfully written. DiTerlizzi uses wonderful descriptions and writes well, I finished this book in under four hours! Although it's written for a younger age group I still enjoyed it. :) I recommend this book to those who have the slightest interest in finding out what happens to Kenny and the Dragon.

Meet Samantha & Samantha Learns a Lesson ~ Susan S. Adler (An American Girls Collection)

This sweet series of books for young girls tells the story of Samantha, a wealthy orphan living in 1904. Samantha’s parents have died in a boating accident, and she lives with her grandmother in a stately Victorian home somewhere presumably in the New England area. (That’s my best guess anyways.) The reader follows Samantha’s every-day life growing up in America over a century ago. Samantha has house servants, she attends an academy solely for girls, and she befriends a young lady who is poor and works in a neighbor’s home.

Along with the ordinary adventures that a 9 year-old commonly finds themselves involved in we also get a glimpse into life in the U.S. and the drastic changes that were taking place during this period of industrialization. After the story is complete there is extra historical information pertaining to the time period complete with photographs of real people and items.

I have been reading these books to my daughters, ages 5 and 7, and they seem to like them. I find myself stopping in the middle of the story though and explaining “the way things were back then” as life without an automobile or even living in a house with 3 stories are foreign concepts to my girls. It is very helpful to have the extra information at the back of the book to refer to. I also enjoy the length of the books as they are usually only a half a dozen chapters which make them excellent for reading a few chapters a night before bed. I recommend them for young girls up to about age 12 although I remember reading them as a teenager as well. And I'm enjoying them again as an adult.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane ~ Katherine Howe

In this engaging novel about the Salem Witch Trials, we follow Connie, a grad student at Harvard who specializes in American History, on a journey spanning the length of a summer in 1991. Connie is an only child, and her mother, Grace, asks Connie to move to Marblehead, Massachusetts (near Salem) to clean out Grace’s childhood home and prepare it to sell. Connie balks at this request as she is supposed to be preparing her graduate school dissertation, not spending her summer cleaning her dead grandmother’s house.

Once at the 17th century home though, Connie makes a discovery in an old family Bible; a skeleton key was hidden in the pages, and tucked inside the key’s shaft is a piece of parchment bearing the words “Deliverance Dane”. Connie is instantly intrigued, and she makes it her sole objective to discover what or who is Deliverance Dane. This mission leads her back into the past as she unravels clues pertaining to her family history and details regarding a puzzling event in the history of our nation.

Flipping between the present and the past, this book kept me captivated from beginning to end. Overall I enjoyed reading the book, but I did have one major complaint: being a story about the Salem Witch Trials obviously there was a great deal of subject matter pertaining to magic. Normally this doesn’t bother me as I can read novels with that content for what they are: fictional stories. But this book bothered me as the characters who were practitioners of magic were also presented as being devout Puritan Christians. These women claimed they were doing “the will of God.” The author went so far as to write out some of the incantations, and the instructions involved saying the names of God and “reciting the Lord’s Prayer”. The Bible is very clear on this issue. Deuteronomy 18:10-12b states:

“There must never be found among you anyone who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire; anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer. Whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD.”

It’s very obvious from that verse alone that magic is wrong. Yes, there are people today who do the very things in that list, but are they doing it along with the will of God? No. Books can be very misleading, and even fictional stories can tweak our minds to think, “Is that really true??” Because I wouldn’t want anyone to be confused on the issue of magic and God’s viewpoint on it I would not recommend this book to others.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Prairie Songs ~ Pam Conrad

Set back in the "Soddy House" days of Nebraska, this book is told from young Louisa's point of view. It does well to show the hardships of the early settlers; such as gathering buffalo chips instead of wood for the fire, soddy houses instead of wood houses, not a neighbor for miles and nothing but miles and miles of open grass and not a tree insight. It also gives a glimpse of what winter would have been like as well. The book is about a Doctor and his wife who move to the "wilderness" of Nebraska from New York into a soddy near Liousa and her family. Liousa and her family do all they can to help the new couple feel at home. Part of the story is either you come to love the praire or completely hate it. I asked an eleven year old girl what she thought of the book and she said she liked it.

I, however, had a slightly different view. Sadly, Conrad (the authoress) has many of the characters use swear words to emphasize their point. The way the husband and wife treat each other is also another down point, as well as the father's attitude toward his children. But hard times did tend to make people a bit harder, so maybe I'm just being overly picky.

Another thing I thought that Conrad could have left out was a scene in which someone dies and she goes into some detail (a little much I thought) in describing the scene and how the dead person looked. Depending on what a child is accustomed to in their normal day to day life, a scene like that may not effect them at all, I just thought it was slightly over the top.

I, personally, am probably not going to read this book again, nor would I recommend it to any one. But, that's just my personal opinion.

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland ~ Lewis Carroll

If you've ever seen Disney's movie of Alice in Wonderland then you have a rough idea of what this book is about. However, upon starting this book and getting aways into it I realized that the movie doesn't follow as closely to the book as it could have. There are, as Alice cried, `Curiouser and curiouser!' things in this book as you continue to read. I didn't, however, find anything unusually scary in the book, as I had in the movie (the queen of hearts always scared me in the movie, for she was always be-headed people and was always quite angry :) ). There are so many more explanations for things that happen in the book that the movie leaves out. In the end, you walk away quite settled and understanding most of what happened. It is quite the adventure! :)

I greatly enjoyed Lewis Carrolls humor and his many uses of puns and homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings). It was a very easy read for me and rather enjoyable. However, I do not think a younger child would understand a lot of what is going on, especially if it is being read aloud to them. For example: I started reading this book out loud to a couple of kids, and usually when I read a book and stop at the end of a chapter they beg for me to continue, but with this book, when we came to a stopping place they vanished from the room without a word about continuing. Carroll does tend to write part of a sentence and then add, in ( )'s some explanation and then continue his sentence, which can be quite confusing for a younger child, especially if they are not the one reading it. For example:

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. `I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think--' (she was rather glad there was no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound at all the right word) `--but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand or Australia?' (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke--fancy curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) `And what an ignorant little girl she'll think me for asking! No, it'll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.'

Carroll also has an older style of writing and spelling, which may be slightly confusing to some.

So, all that to say, I liked the book, but I don't know that I would label it as a children's book so much as a young adult's book.

Old Yeller ~ Fred Gipson

Who doesn't love a story about a boy and his dog? I'd seen a movie based on this book many times, it was a favorite movie, so I was very excited to actually read the book. Needless to say, I loved it!

Living in the Texas Hill Country, Travis, 14, is put in charge of his little brother, mother and family farm as his father goes off on a cattle drive. Shortly after his father leaves an old "yeller" dog comes to the farm. Travis wants nothing to do with the dog at first and wants to run him off the farm, but after Yeller saves the lives of Travis' family, Travis decides he's alright after all and grows to love the dog deeply. Many things happen in the father's absence such as bull fights, wolves, skunks, wild hogs and stubborn mules. Of course there's always the fields that need looking after, the harvest brought in, and the hunting to supply the meat. Without warning hydrophbia (rabies) starts to spread in the area around the farm. Animals die and the family is forced to deal with watching the animals die and then taking care of the corpses. After a wolf with hydrophiba tries to attack the family Travis is faced with a heart-rending decision that had me in tears.

The book is told through the eyes of Travis, but even though it's written from a boy's point of view there is no doubt that any girl would greatly enjoy it, too. I did. :)

I read this book aloud to a couple of younger children and they were always begging for more at the end of each chapter and I was right there with them, it was so captivating and exciting. We finished the book in less than two days. I highly recommend this book for anyone, not just the children. *wink*